218 THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING FINDING A SPIRITUAL PRACTICE If your dying friend or relative is familiar with some kind of meditation practice, encourage him or her to rest in meditation as much as possible, and meditate with the person as death approaches. If the dying person is at all open to the idea of spiritual practice, help the person find a suitable, simple practice, do it with him or her as often as possible, and keep reminding the person gently of it as death nears. Be resourceful and inventive in how you help at this crucial moment, for a great deal depends on it: The whole atmosphere of dying can be transformed if people find a practice they can do wholeheartedly before and as they die. There are so many aspects of spiritual practice; use your acumen and sensitivity to find the one they might be most connected with: it could be forgiveness, purification, dedication, or feeling the presence of light or love. And as you help them begin, pray for the success of their practice with all your heart and mind; pray for them to be given every energy and faith to follow the path they choose. I have known people even at the latest stages of dying make the most startling spiritual progress by using one prayer or one mantra or one simple visualization with which they really made a connection in their heart. Stephen Levine tells the story of a woman he was counseling who was dying of cancer. 2 She felt lost because, although she had a natural devotion to Jesus Christ, she had left the church. Together they explored what she might do to strengthen that faith and devotion. She came to the realization that what would help her renew her connection with Christ, and find some trust and confidence while dying, would be to repeat continuously the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." Saying this prayer opened her heart, and she began to feel Christ's presence with her at all times. THE ESSENTIAL PHOWA PRACTICE The most valuable and powerful of all practices I have found in caring for the dying, one which I have seen an astonishing number of people take to with enthusiasm, is a practice from the Tibetan tradition called phowa (pronounced "po-wa"), which means the transference of consciousness. Phowa for dying people has been performed by friends, relatives, or masters, quite simply and naturally, all over the modern world—in Australia, America, and Europe. Thousands
SPIRITUAL HELP FOR THE DYING 219 of people have been given the chance to die serenely because of its power. It gives me joy to make the heart of the phowa practice now available to anyone who wishes to use it. I want to emphasize that this is a practice that anyone at all can do. It is simple, but it is also the most essential practice we can do to prepare for our own death, and it is the main practice I teach my students for helping their dying friends and relatives, and their loved ones who have already died. Practice One First make sure you are comfortable, and assume the meditative posture. If you are doing this practice as you are coming close to death, just sit as comfortably as you are able, or practice lying down. Then bring your mind home, release, and relax completely. 1. In the sky in front of you, invoke the embodiment of whatever truth you believe in, in the form of radiant light. Choose whichever divine being or saint you feel close to. If you are a Buddhist, invoke a buddha with whom you feel an intimate connection. If you are a practicing Christian, feel with all your heart the vivid, immediate presence of God, the Holy Spirit, Jesus, or the Virgin Mary. If you don't feel linked with any particular spiritual figure, simply imagine a form of pure golden light in the sky before you. The important point is that you consider the being you are visualizing or whose presence you feel is the embodiment of the truth, wisdom, and compassion of all the buddhas, saints, masters, and enlightened beings. Don't worry if you cannot visualize them very clearly, just fill your heart with their presence and trust that they are there. 2. Then focus your mind, heart, and soul on the presence you have invoked, and pray: Through your blessing, grace, and guidance, through the power of the light that streams from you: May all my negative karma, destructive emotions, obscurations, and blockages be purified and removed, May I know myself forgiven for all the harm I may have thought and done, May I accomplish this profound practice of phowa, and die a good and peaceful death, And through the triumph of my death, may I be able to benefit all other beings, living or dead.